MiniJambox Bluetooth Speaker Cabinets  

Posted by Christopher W. Geis

I've got a pair of MiniJambox bluetooth speakers: I l

ove them, they're super convenient, they sound great, and with the two of them, I can pair them, and use one as the right speaker, and one as the left.  I like the "graphite facet look"  The color is classy and unobtrusive.  But then I thought, you know what would make these even better?  Custom wooden cabinets, that's what.

I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do for a design, but I liked the look of a leftover side from a coaster holder I had made, and decided the easiest thing was to just scale up that design with few tweaks, and see how it looked, and I really like the result.

After making (and breaking) one of the cases, I adjusted the design a bit, partially to tweak the dimensions to avoid breaking the next one, and partially because a few elements of the design ended up a little too thin.  Plus, I had decided that I didn't really like just having a cutout in the top for the buttons; I wanted to see if I could make inset wooden buttons.

Front view, aspen version

Here you can see plys in the plywood, as the various
grain directions get burned by the laser a little differently
To do that, I added a filled rectangle to the cut file, and had the laser raster that portion at relatively high power, and ran it for two passes.  This resulted in a roughly 1/8" inset.  This gives enough room for the wooden buttons to sit on top of the original buttons, with a bit of extra for the lip that keep them from falling through the hole.

Left side
I'd planned to add an engraving, either to the
Rectangular cut-out allows access to the side buttons and ports
buttons or to the top of the case to mark which button was which, but didn't ever get around to it.  I also considered giving the three buttons a different top shape to make them distinct to to the touch, but in the end I decided to leave them identical, at least until I proved that the idea was going to work.

The laser cut has a slight angle to the edge, so I usually prefer the "cut" side as the outer surface.  This meant that I had to run the cut operation on the top piece in vector only mode,  flip the piece, and run the raster operation, with all the vector colors set to zero passes. This let me have the rastered out rectangle line up very closely with the rest of the part.  It wasn't exact.  You can see small, light edge around the button holes where I had to break off a very thin remnant of wood.

Here you can see the leather pieces I glued to the bottom to keep
the case from buzzing against the surface it was sitting on
The two are made of different materials: the first one is made from 1/4" aspen board, like a lot of what I've cut on the laser, and the second is from a piece of 1/4" hobby-grade plywood I bought at Mendards.  Both came out looking very nice, although I only remembered to engrave my signature on the bottom piece for the plywood version.

The plywood cabinet is a little heavier than the aspen and a bit sturdier.  I'll probably make a second one of these and replace the aspen one.

In order to get them to fit snugly together, I added 0.5mm triangles to the tabs on the front, back, top and bottom pieces, then filed these down until the taps would slide into the slots with just a bit of resistance.  This allows the cases to be held together by friction alone, but I can still take them apart without breaking anything.  This is helped by the fact that the Jawbone logo is slightly raised on the front, giving the front piece a bit of pressure on the sides, but not enough to cause a noticeable curve. I also designed the slots as if I was working with materials that were perfectly 6mm thick.  Since both the aspen and the plywood are slightly over 6mm, this meant I had to file out the slots a bit for a proper fit, but adds  a bit more friction to the fit.

I designed them so you can still stand them up vertically if you want, although the raised wooden buttons throw of the symmetry a bit.

One speaker in its usual spot atop my armoir

And the other in its usual place on my nightstand.

And sometimes it just ends up over in the corner, so I don't have to go all the way around the bed to turn it o

Cryptex for Christmas  

Posted by Christopher W. Geis

First, pictures.

This year for my sister's clue present, I decided to take a second shot at making a cryptex
Fully assembled and locked cryptex, with the letters scrambled.  To open it, you have to solve the clue. (Or break thy cyptex)

With the key partially retracted.  A scroll was inside, with directions to where
the actual present was hidden.

With the key fully retracted.

How it works

The working principle of this cryptex is actually fairly simple. I settled on 10 sided polygons for the outside, as this provided good proportions on each face for the letters, and kept the number of letter plates I would need to make and glue on to a reasonable eighty.  Each ring is constructed of three layers of 1/4" (approx. 6mm) aspen board, cut to shape with a laser.  Two of the three layers have a fully circular cutout in the center, with notches to make the rings ratchet as they turn.  The third layer has a smaller radius coutout, with a cutout that matches the radius of the outer rings.

When these rings are assembled end to end, and the notches aligned the "key" can be inserted or withdrawn.  If you rotate one or more of the rings, the notches will not longer line up with one another, and the teeth of the key will prevent it from being withdrawn.  In order to withdraw the key and open the cryptex you need to re-align all the notches, by setting each ring so that is spells the correct word at the marked position.

The rest of the structure is the two end plates that are joined together by what I refer to as spines.  The open end plate is capped by the decorative cap on the key, and the closed end plate is covered by a matching end cap.

Examples of all the major components.


Back in 2010, my sister was living when my sister was living in London,and I was trying to think if there was some way I could continue our tradition of making clue presents, since I had to bring it to her across the ocean, and had no idea what the house she was living in was like.  It occurred to me that one way to do this would be to make a puzzle-box or a cryptex.  Then I figured that no, I didn't know how to make something like.  After all how would you go about making a cryptex?  The necessary internal mechanism would be far too complicated.

Then I realized this wan't really true.  So I set about making one, with the tools I had available to me at the time, namely an ancient, cast iron scroll saw and a dremel drill, plus a couple of files and a sanding block.  The result was  a functional, if somewhat rough cryptex.  I was proud of it, even if it did fall rather short of my imagination.
The foam was added to hold a sonic screwdriver
The scroll saw I used was a wonderful tool, and it opened up a lot of possibilities for projects for me over the years, but it was somewhat limited.  Even more limited were my woodworking skills, as you can see.  In the end, it took so long to get the functional parts of the cryptex done that most of the decorative bits I had planned got omitted, and even the lettering was done with a brown permanent marker.

What I really needed (other than more skill working with wood) was a laser cutter.  And now, thanks to Twin Cities Maker, I have access to one.

Making the Design

Parts sitting on the laser cutter waiting to have the protective
masking tape removed.
To design for they laser cutter, I've been using Google Sketchup, since I'm used to a CAD-style interface.  For some simpler designs, I tried working directly in Inkscape, but I just don't have enough familiarity with illustration programs for that to be a good solution.   (The base point for my circle is the lower left hand corner of the bounding rectangle?  How do I combine shapes and DELETE the lines I don't want?  Aaaaaaaaaugh!)  I'm sure Inkscape is a great program: I just don't understand it. (Yet)

Assembly of all the interior parts. In the actual cryptex, I have
ratchet springs on all four spines.
For this project the 3D nature of Sketchup was invaluable.  I drew up each component as a separate file, and then created sub-assemblies before creating on large assembly of all the parts.  I could then check the integration of each part, and go back and edit the individual parts as needed.

Another great aspect of Sketchup for this is the Push-Pull tool, which makes modeling laser cut parts quite easy.  Draw up a shape in 2D, then pull it out to the thickness of you material, and you've got your part.

At first I tried working by coloring my parts with dark edges, and light faces, to approximate the look of the laser cut parts.  This works great for relatively simple parts, as it give you a good preview of the final look.  For a complicated assembly like this, though, it just makes it impossible to see what is going on.

One thing I really wanted to do with this cryptex was to make the rings ratchet as they turned, so that when you got one of the letter plates lined up with the indicator, it would "snap" into place.  That way, as soon as you got the word figured out, you could open the cryptex, without  fiddling around, trying to get the notches exactly aligned.

First ratchet design.  No good.
 Hence the notches you can see in the ring assembly on the right.  A laser cutter makes this sort of thing easy.  It hardly even slows the cut down to add the notches to the inner circle, and they come out perfectly spaced and consistently cut.  In the end, it turns out I should have made them a bit bigger but the idea was sound.

Much better!
The ratchet spring was a little trickier, and I sketched up at least a dozen ideas of how I might do it, before settling on a design.  I cut a couple to see if they would work, and lo and behold, they were useless for what I wanted. They were weak, and easily broken, and worse, the seemed to curl after cutting so that when the face of the spring was pressed against the outer ring, the spike didn't even touch the surface, much less engage with the notches.  So I went back and redesigned them.  This design was much stronger, and seemed work much better.
Ratchet springs assembled on the spines.

In the end, the ratcheting action I wanted didn't quite work out, due to a fault in the design of the open end cap.  In order to engage with the rings all down the length of the cyrptex, the ratchet springs need to be up against the inner edge of the rings.  This only works if the spines that hold the ratchet springs are in the correct position.  Unfortunately, to maximize the size of the opening in the end of the cryptex, I made mortises in the open end cap as open slots, rather than having them closed off.  This meant that I had to rely on the glue to hold them in position, and due to time constrains ( I had only a couple of days to cut my parts and assemble them before Christmas)  I used super glue to hold everything together.  I didn't get all four spines in quite the right position before my glue dried, and the slight mis-alignment of the spines, coupled with the undersized notches in the rings means that only a couple of the rings ratchet properly. This at least provides a guide to light up the rest of the letters with, and the ratchet springs do still keep rings nicely aligned in a column, rather than "floating" several millimeters around the center line like they do in the original one I made.  Its a significant improvement, but I think I can better it if I were to tweak the design and make another one. An improved design for the ratchet springs could also make the assembly less dependent on the precise alignment of the spines.

Old and new, side by side.
The letters for this cryptex are laser engraved on a very thin pine veneer, and then each letter plate was cut out with the laser.  I could then glue a letter to each surface of the outer rings.

Niederschlagen's Excellent Repeating Firearms  

Posted by Christopher W. Geis

For a while now, people have been making some excellent steampunk mods of Nerf guns. Most of the ones I've seen have started with the Maverick pistol, which is a good place to start if you want a fantastical steampunk weapon.  Afer this project, I'll be doing my own at some point, but to my knowledge, no one has yet made a steampunk mod of the Longshot, which is odd, because it makes very good base for a steampunk weapon.

As one of my friends had a Longshot he had no particular attachment to, we decided I should fill this hole in the steampunk Nerf arsenal.  My original sketches called for a bit more modification than this one actually got, but I wanted to try to have it finished by Halloween, and so scaled back the modifications to a degree.  In my opinion, the result was excellent nonetheless. 

The first step was to take the gun apart, since that would let me get cleaner paint lines. I photographed the mechanism so I could put it back together when I was done.  The reassembled gun still fires, but weakly. I think I must have damaged the plunger at some point.

Step two was to sand off the NERF logo and the other raised text, then take a file to the gun, marking nicks and scratches.  I then glued various odds and ends to the gun  to add an eccentric look. Junk drawers are great for this, and so is the Axe Man. You might notice that the right half of the gun was damaged, when the stand was removed.  This section was replaced with short length of PVC.

Then came the base gold coat of spray paint on the main body of the gun and silver on the other pieces.

The aging process was a lot of fun, and went in three stages.  Stage one was a layer of Spanish Copper Rub N Buff in various areas, giving the blank gold a more "aged brass" feel. with some areas very dark and others hardly touched.

 Step two was globbing black and brown acrylic paint in all the gouges and holes, then taking a rag to the surface of the gun, cleaning off the excess and leaving a "dirty" grime in all the sunken areas. This was done to the clip and the other silver parts as well.  It produces a very aged feeling to the whole thing, but I wanted it to have a bit more depth, so I mixed some green with the black and proceeded to stage three.

This was similar to stage two but I was more selective in the areas where the green went, and careful not to leave too much on the surface.  This really gives the impression that the gun has been used and has gotten wet over and over again.

The stock was made from a piece of scrap wood from Menards, cut to shape with a scroll saw and rounded and polished with a dremel and variety of sand papers, then stained.  It was glued in place with Gorilla glue, which seems to be more than adequate  to hold the stock to the gun.  I sanded the bonding area down to the blue plastic and made sure it was good and rough before the gluing, which seems to have done the trick.  The leather around the stock is cosmetic rather than functional here.

This probably won't be the last steampunk Nerf gun to show up here.  This project was fantastically fun, and I love the result. Now I want one that actually fires a decent range!  I'd take it back apart to fix it, but I can't get it apart with the stock glued on.  I think I need to modify the barrel more on the next one as well.  The stock barrel looks decent painted up, but lacks a proper steampunk flavor. It works, but could be a lot better.

The Stormwood Staff  

Posted by Christopher W. Geis

Obviously I haven't posted anything in a while.  It isn't that I haven't been doing random projects, but there was that business with the coffee and the time machine and what with one thing and another (mostly the zombies, really), I haven't bothered to write any blog posts. You don't care about any of that, though.  Me?  I'm boring.  My projects?  Less boring.

I give you: the Stormwood Staff!

This all started back in spring when one of my friends found a pretty great walking stick while we were all clambering around down by the Mississippi river and Minnehaha falls area.

He decided it would make a great mage staff, and got right to work, removing an awkward stub of a branch with a really big knife, and then proceeding to strip the bark with the selfsame knife.

That being a slow and awkward process, he only stripped about a third of the branch before I got involved, form which point I sort of took over the project. (Sorry, Wood.)

The rest of the bark was removed with a Dremel drill and a sanding drum attachment, and then smoothed further with a couple of sanding pads, which are absolutely lovely for this sort of thing.

We wanted the staff to have some sort of runic script on it, originally intending to carve an verse from Proverbs down the staff in a spiral in Sarati.  Due to time constraints, we decided to leave that particular project for another time, and instead inscribed the words "Swift Justice" on the staff, in a somewhat stylized Sarati script.

Now a smooth wooden staff with strange inscriptions is great, but it's really just a cool stick.  A mage staff needs more.  This is where the glass cube at the top comes in.  I really have no idea what this piece of glass was made for originally, but they have bunches of them at the Axe-Man, and is seemed a likely candidate for the staff, so we bought one, and mounted it point first in the staff, secured in place with clear silicone and wrapped in copper wire.

Of course, if it's really going to be  mage staff it should light up, you say.  I totally agree.  So that's what we did.

In order to provide a recess for the wires, I drilled a hole in the top of the staff with the biggest drill bit I could find in the house, in this case a fairly hefty 1/2" bit I'd bought a while back mounting some tow hooks to the corners of our garage.

The Dremel was called back into action to route out a battery compartment and and recess for the switch.  There are probably better ways to do this, but the fast cutting bit on the Dremel worked decently well.

This one is kind of blurry, and I don't seem to have any other pictures of this stage of construction, but it gives you an idea.  The final wiring was a lot neater than this test wiring.

Here you can see the LED's recessed into the top of the staff.  Two are white LED's from Radio Shack, and the other is a blue LED cannibalized from a light-up pen I had in my Junk Drawer. Several other LED's from little lights we picked up at Axe-man were sacrificed while trying to get this wired up properly.  The switch came off a circuit board from something else that had ended it's life in the Junk Drawer.

Once everything was carved, the staff was stained with two colors of stain, a lighter, orange-red oil stain and then a darker gel stain.  The battery was hidden with  a wrapping of leather cord with the switch poking through between the wraps.

To protect the base of the staff, we drilled a hole and mounted two washers to the base with a long screw.  The bottom was wrapped in more leather, which I then got wet in hopes that the force it would exert on the base of the shaft when it shrunk would help keep the bottom of the staff from cracking or splintering.

In case you were wondering, the name comes from the last names of my friend and his fiance.  He's Wood, she's Storm.

Tardis Console  

Posted by Christopher W. Geis

My sister and I just watched the first episode of Doctor Who with Matt Smith as the new Doctor, and in honor of the Doctor's shiny new Tardis, I'm going to show you my own Tardis console.

I made this a couple of summers back for the Doctor Who fan film we were (and still are) making. Lacking time, materials, and most of all, storage space, I couldn't actually make a full Tardis interior, or even a full center console. We already had a great space to use as the Tardis control room, but we needed a control panel, just something simple with buttons and hopefully a lever. I went a little overboard.

Most of the knobs, switches, circuit boards, etc
are from Axe Man Surplus, probably
the most awesome store on the planet. The thing with gears and buttons on the left hand side of the panel is the guts of an old personal tape deck. You might recognize the flat white thing with all the bumps as the inside bits of an old computer
keyboard. The wiring I rescued from a smashed projection TV that someone had put on the curb to have hauled away. The pocket watch, is in fact, my dress pocket watch. (I carry another, simpler pocket watch as my timepiece, but thought the fancier one was more suited for the Doctor.

Oh, and the console casing? Cardboard. What else would it be? You can probably see the corrugation on the edges of the holes, but overall, I think I did a decent job of hiding the fact that the thing was made of cardboard. The wood grain is colored pencil and wood stain applied directly to the cardboard.

Sadly, the switched and knobs are all non-operative. I didn't have the time or skill at the time to wire them up to anything. One of these days, I'd like to go in and wire it up to lights and sounds. Of course, to do that I'm going to need a soldering iron, and I still haven't bought one, despite that fact that I often wish I had one.

The stand for the console is PVC pipe, and can be disassembled for easier transport. The design has several flaws. One, it is wobbly. Two, the paint doesn't adhere very well to the PVC pipe, and I didn't put a clear coat over it, so some of the paint has scratched off, showing the white beneath. And third, I failed to label any of the pieces, so I can never get it put together properly.
A lot of the pieces are nearly, but not quiet the same length, so that you are likely to put one in where you need another.
And of course, as soon as you do that, nothing fits anymore. I've given up on every properly putting it back together, and figure if it stands up, and most of the piece are generally where they should be, who cares if it doesn't all fit together? (Me, that's who, but not enough to bother with, especially since a lot of the joints are really tight because of the paint.)

Of course, if I had been thinking clearly when I designed this, I would have at least added a handle to the console so that would be easier to transport. As it is, the contraption is large, unwieldy, heavy, and no fun at all to carry around.

Oh yes, and here are the design sketches.
You can see that the final design is somewhat different than the plan, but not much. Some of the controls have been moved around, and I left of some of the detail panels, deciding that I didn't really need them.

Last is a picture of the console as I was working on it. Yes, I mostly work on the floor. Its the only flat surface big enough. And yes, my work space for projects like this do tend to get messy.